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Kadner: Obamacare too much of a mystery

Updated: February 17, 2014 8:39AM



Despite all of the commentary about the Affordable Care Act (also known as Obamacare), the average person really doesn’t know much about it.

For example, a friend of mine in the health care industry recently told me about her fear of losing her health insurance coverage.

She has been undergoing expensive chemotherapy and worried that after several years she was reaching the maximum coverage on her insurance.

I thought (correctly, it turned out) that under the new federal law insurance companies no longer could put lifetime coverage limits on their policies.

But how many Americans know that?

So when a news release arrived from an organization called Get Covered America, announcing a health care roundtable with elected leaders from the Southland, I was interested to hear if any real information was going to be disseminated.

Get Covered America is a national campaign of Enroll America, which touts itself as being focused on educating consumers about the benefits of health insurance coverage and the new health care options under the Affordable Care Act.

As it turned out, the news conference planned after the roundtable didn’t come off as planned. Hey, stuff happens, particularly when it comes to the new law.

However, some of the folks who organized the roundtable were around, along with state Rep. Marcus Evans, D-Chicago, whose district includes parts of Burnham, Calumet City, Lansing and Lynwood.

My first question seemed harmless enough, at least to me.

How many residents in the south and southwest suburbs of Cook County are uninsured, and how many of those have registered for insurance under the Affordable Care Act?

You would have thought I pointed a gun at a guy text-messaging in a movie theater.

There was shock, followed by bewilderment, followed by fear and loathing.

Why would I expect anyone present to have those numbers? Someone probably has them, I was told, but nobody in the room I was in.

Call the state. Call the federal government. But don’t ask questions like that at a forum promoted as a way to “discuss ways to maximize enrollment in the new insurance marketplace.”

I was told that a recent report by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service revealed that through December, 61,111 Illinois residents had selected a private medical care plan via a federal website.

I later learned that some of the roundtable participants were under the impression that number reflected people who had registered only through the federal website and not those who had done so through the state’s Get Covered Illinois computer system.

Wrong! That 61,111 is the total figure as of Jan. 1.

David Elin, state director of Enroll America, seemed proud of the number and annoyed that I wasn’t.

Elin and his colleagues said there still were 75 days to go (March 31 is the end of open enrollment) and that groups such as Enroll America were stepping up their efforts to reach people. That was one of the reasons for the roundtable that day.

Local elected leaders and organizations involved in increasing enrollment in the new health care system are brainstorming about the best ways to get the message out and get people to acquire health insurance.

So exactly what did these folks come up with during their brainstorming sessions?

It sounds to me as though state legislators, Cook County commissioners and other elected officials are being asked to use their government offices to organize registration drives.

State Rep. Al Riley, D-Olympia Fields, who left the roundtable meeting before I arrived, said there was some talk about holding a registration drive at a venue such as South Suburban College where hundreds, maybe thousands, of people might show up.

Many elected leaders from the Southland have hosted small sessions where the public can ask questions and register for health insurance. Many more of those are scheduled in the coming weeks.

To find out where a meeting is scheduled near you, visit getcoveredillinois.gov, click on the green box marked “Get Help In Your Area” and then enter your ZIP code. Or you can call (866) 311-1119 between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m.

Part of the problem with explaining the Affordable Care Act is that, well, it’s health insurance. Anyone who has ever attended a health insurance session at work with a private provider should know how complicated that can get.

“All I want to know is if my doctor is in the plan, what my premiums are and how much this is going to cost me out of pocket,” a frustrated worker eventually shouts at a representative from the insurance company.

The answer is never simple. And you have to figure it out for yourself.

There are a number of plan options under the Affordable Care Act, and there are people available to walk you through the process. Locally, Aunt Martha’s and South Suburban PADS are getting grant money to provide such assistance.

There also is financial aid available from the federal government to reduce the cost of premiums for many people.

My friend also was concerned that if she lost her insurance through work, she would be uninsurable. That should never happen under the new law.

By the way, according to figures supplied by the state, there are about 350,000 residents without medical insurance in what’s known as Region 5, which includes the townships of Bremen, Bloom, Calumet, Lemont, Orland, Palos, Rich, Thornton and Worth as well as Will, Grundy and Kanakee counties.

That sounds low to me, but expanded Medicaid also is available to many more low-income people through the Affordable Care Act. Illinois has enrolled about 136,000 people in Medicaid under the new law.

In addition, hundreds of thousands have visited the federal and state websites but have not yet picked a health care plan. Getcoveredillinois.gov is the website to remember if you need help.



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